Understanding the Milestone
There’s a lot happening with your baby’s language development during the first 2 years of life. You can expect your child to coo and laugh, play with sounds, babble and begin to communicate with gesture. Long before he utters his first word, he’s learning the rules of language and how adults use it to communicate. He’ll begin by using his tongue, lips, palate and any emerging teeth to make sounds (cries at first, then “uh’s” and “aah’s” in the first month or two and babbling shortly thereafter).
But listen closely and one day you’ll hear the first ‘real’ word. By 8 months, your baby will probably start stringing together “ma-ma” and “da-da” sounds without necessarily knowing what they mean. ‘Da-da’ is often the first word many babies use because it seems to be slightly easier for babies to say than ‘ma-ma’. Also, new research has revealed they are not specifically calling for their father when they say so, but instead listening to the sound of their own voices.
Repetitive babbles are mainly motivated by their ability to hear their own voice. But when these sounds start to transform into words with meaning, it’s a developmental milestone that feels great.
When to Expect the Milestone?
Babies start talking, i.e. attempt to express themselves in words with meaning anywhere between 9 & 14 months. Some perfectly normal babies don’t say a recognizable word until their 18 months, whereas some babies begin to communicate in words or sounds (‘ba-ba’, ‘da-da’) as early as 7 months.
Activities & Stimulation
Your baby’s verbal skills will progress through stages as his vocal mechanism matures and he increasingly relates to his environment as well as start understanding individual words and their meanings. Starting at birth, babies are listening closely to the words and sounds all around them and beginning to sort out their meanings.
By about 6 months of age, your baby will most likely understand individual words, such as his name and the names of other people and familiar objects. Within a few months of understanding that there are individual words tucked into that jumble of sounds he’s listening every day, your baby will start to experiment with making sounds of his own. All of which brings him closer, day by day, saying his first word.
The best way to help your baby say his first words is to talk to him a lot. Your baby will be eager to pick up on your verbal cues. More ways to encourage your baby to talk:
Speak the names of objects and people.
Read to your baby, pointing out objects and their names in the picture he sees.
Ask questions, hold one-sided conversations and listen if he answers. When he does vocalize, be sure to smile, make eye contact and show him that you are listening. He’ll be encouraged by your attention and excited to try again.
Speak slowly & clearly and focus on single words. Slowing the pace as you flip through a picture book or explaining in clear, simple language what you are doing helps your child understand and focus on individual words.
Use names rather than pronouns. Whenever possible, name the people you are talking about. For example, “This is Mommy’s coffee” is clearer and easier for babies to understand than “This is my coffee.”
Sing songs and rhymes. Your baby will learn valuable language skills from the simple rhythms and silly repetitions of nursery rhymes and songs.
What Not To Worry about?
When it comes to speech, the window of what’s considered ‘normal’ is wide open. Your child may start to use sound & words like ‘mi’ for ‘milk’ as early as 7 months. Or your child might not start to say words or sounds until as late as 18 months. But, it’s just as appropriate to hear a child’s first words at either end of that age range or at any age in between. Every child develops at his own pace.
When to Talk to a Professional?
About one in four children is a late talker and fewer than half of those kids will require therapy to get them back on track. Signs that your child may be delayed include:
He is still speaking in single syllables.
He doesn’t use two-word sentences or ask questions.
He melts down frequently because you don’t understand him.
The best time to get professional help is when your child is around 2 ½ years of age, when late bloomers usually catch up. Though, keep in mind that the more you communicate, talk sing, read and play silly games with him from birth, the more language he’ll learn.